Breakthrough treatments for multiple sclerosis likely ´;soon´

Breakthrough treatments for multiple sclerosis (MS) may be just five years away, an Australian leader in stem cell research said in Christchurch yesterday.

Professor Alan Trounson, director of Australia´s main centre for stem cell research at Monash University, was speaking about advances in stem cell therapies.

Speaking at the Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences open day, Professor Trounson said that animal trials of an MS therapy had proved so successful he believed hospital trials were likely "really soon".

Researchers had found that primitive nerve cells, grown from stem cells in the lab, could reduce symptoms of an MS-type illness when injected into mice.

The cells had been able to pass into the rodent´s brain where they matured into myelin-producing cells. Myelin is an important protective coating around nerve cells that is stripped away in MS sufferers, causing messages to become scrambled.

"Using these cells to reverse conditions like MS I think is highly probable in the next five years, perhaps even less," he said.

The potential of stem cells has excited researchers because under the right conditions they can develop into cells from any part of the body.

Stem cells have been used in laboratories to produce clusters of heart cells, all beating at the same rate as a typical human heart, or bundles of nerve cells able to pass electric signals to each other.

Some stem cells have been used successfully in medicine for almost 40 years. Bone marrow transplantation, which is a form of adult stem cell therapy, cures several forms of leukaemia and anaemia.
Submitted  10/4/2004 6:18:51 PM